Active Shooter Protocol: Present & Future

 Courtesy of Santa Monica College

Courtesy of Santa Monica College

On June 7, 2013, a gunman entered Santa Monica College’s library with an AR-15 assault rifle after he began the shooting in a nearby Santa Monica residence, resulting in four deaths. The gunman commenced his shooting rampage prior to walking on SMC’s main campus, where he was shot and killed by a police officer. This shooting has been one of at least 239 school shootings nationwide after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, with 438 people shot and 138 of whom were killed, according to The New York Times.

Santa Monica College implemented policies to try to prevent such shootings from occurring. After the second deadliest shooting in US history occurred at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, which resulted in the death of thirty-two students and staff members, SMC reacted by creating a Crisis Prevention Team.

Brenda Benson, senior administrative dean of counseling, retention, and student wellness, said, “it was this incident in 2007 that really caused a lot of people in higher education to realize that there needed to be a different model to keep campuses safe.”

Benson stated that the purpose of the Crisis Prevention Team is ultimately to help any student in need: “Of course we definitely want to prevent crises from happening, but we’re really more of a care team. Trying to identify students who are in need of additional support services and getting those students the resources and care that they need."

Benson gave the Virginia Tech shooter as an example of "a worrisome student who was definitely showing signs of worrisome behavior with his roommate, in his classes, in his counseling sessions, but there was no one there to connect the dots and to realize this was a student who really needed help.” Although the team works to help students dealing with varying difficulties that could prevent tragedies, the CPT is not the on-campus resource to contact in the case of an urgent and immediate emergency, such as an active shooter being on any of SMC's campuses.

According to Santa Monica College Police Department (SMCPD) Chief Johnnie Adams, there is a video on SMC's website titled, "RUN. HIDE. FIGHT." that discusses recommended safety procedures in the case of an active shooter. Referencing the video, Chief Adams states, "as a matter of fact, before the 2013 shooting, what saved some of the people’s lives was the fact that they were trained." He also said that faculty and staff members were emailed the link to that video to watch. The first thing Chief Adams recommends to do in the case of an active shooter is to run. The next recommended step would be to hide.

"If you have to hide there’s certain things you have to look at when you come into any classroom or any setting, know your environment. First thing I know is I have my blinds, I want to close my blinds so no one knows I’m here, turn off the lights," states Chief Adams. The third step would be to fight, in which he would have a plan. Chief Adams also stated, "you have to look at every single classroom that you go into and have a plan in place… Once you start to think that way, then when something does happen you don’t panic.”

According to SMC Police Chief Johnnie Adams, SMC currently has multiple security operations in place in case of an incident, such as an emergency notification system, over 800 cameras throughout all of SMC’s campuses, and an access control system where, “we can actually lock down most buildings with a flick of a button within our communications center,” Chief Adams said. He also said that the SMCPD regularly trains with the Santa Monica Police Department, at least 40 hours a year on varying topics including active shooters.

Although the SMCPD regularly trains for emergencies, not all faculty and members themselves feel prepared for an immediate emergency, such as an active shooter walking on campus. SMC Professor of Media Studies, Kevin Chicas, said when he first began working at the college, he received an informational packet on policies and procedures relating to emergencies, including the case of an active shooter. Chicas said he currently does not feel completely prepared if he had to deal with such a situation. “So, beyond just a packet of information and beyond a workshop, I think that there definitely needs to be more training,” he said.

The school's police department is currently in the proposal stage of planning active shooter drills. “We’re looking at having some kind of drill. And part of the drill is to actually use actors so that they can actually role play if something were to happen,” Chief Adams said. According to him, that kind of training is something most colleges have in place. During the last flex day at SMC, Chief Adams was in charge of the three emergency preparedness classes taught during that day. “If they come to our classes, we teach them all that stuff… So, it’s just a matter of getting the audience to come forward and attend the classes.” According to Chief Adams, every SMC campus has an evacuation plan in place.